AWOL diplomacyThe Ministry of Foreign Affairs is keeping a low profile despite the worrying economic retaliations from Japan after the Korean Supreme Court’s rulings ordering Japanese companies to compensate Koreans for their forced labor during World War II. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on Wednesday made a phone call to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ask for Washington’s help to address the deepening Seoul-Tokyo dispute, citing the negative impact on the United States and global economy.
But Kang called Pompeo from Ethiopia, part of her six-day trip to three African countries, including Ghana and South Africa, to expand Korea’s diplomatic frontier. No matter how important it is to diversify our diplomatic partners, why is our chief diplomat so far from the action in the face of a deepening trade row with Japan?
Kang was under fire after guiding 52 foreign diplomats in Korea on the “Peace Road” along the DMZ on July 22 at the peak of U.S.-China pressure on Korean companies over an embargo on China’s IT giant Huawei. Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, a Japan expert, embarks on a trip to four countries, including Bangladesh, from tomorrow. They deserve criticism from opposition parties for their “leisurely trips overseas when our companies face a watershed moment for survival.”
In the meantime, Kim Hyun-chong, deputy director of the National Security Office in the Blue House, left for Washington to seek help from the U.S. government to ease Japan’s export restrictions. Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee is also scheduled to fly to Washington next week. The Foreign Ministry sent one of its senior diplomats to Washington, but he certainly has less clout than Kim and Yoo. We wonder what the Foreign Ministry is really doing.
The ministry made a big mistake by ignoring diplomats with expertise in Japan. For instance, two senior diplomats suffered disadvantages in promotion just because they had been involved in striking a deal on the sex slave issue with Tokyo for the past conservative administration. As a result, the post of a senior diplomat handling economic issues with Japan has been empty for four months. How can we expect the Foreign Ministry to do its job successfully under such circumstances?
Foreign Minster Kang and other senior diplomats must wake up and face the harsh realities on our diplomatic front. At the same time, the Blue House must stop meddling with the ministry so it can do its job with conviction in the future. We urge the government to entrust diplomacy to diplomats in the field as soon as possible.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 12, Page 30